Costa Rica: Wildlife Destinations
Corcovado National Park
Corcovado's star species: Baird’s tapir • Jaguar • Ocelot • Scarlet macaw • Squirrel monkey • Howler monkey
For a country rich in wildlife (a quarter of Costa Rica is protected as national parks and reserves), Corcovado boasts extraordinary biodiversity. Its rain-drenched tropical lowland forest is a glorious tangle of some 500 tree species, while the animal inventory stands at 104 mammals, 370 birds and 117 amphibians and reptiles. All four species of Costa Rica’s monkeys are found here – spider monkey, squirrel monkey, mantled howler and white-faced capuchin – while the notoriously shy Baird’s tapir is often spotted near the Sirena Biological Station (see below). Follow trails along the rainforest-fringed beaches for great views of capuchins, coaties and peccaries or delve into the jungle for fabulous birdwatching (Corcovado has Central America’s largest population of scarlet macaws).
Getting there Flights from San José serve Puerto Jiménez, the largest town on the Osa Peninsula; buses got to La Palma and Drake from where Drake Bay Wilderness Resort offers boat trips to Corcovado. Alternatively hike into the park to stay at Sirena Biological Station.
Getting around Hiking, boat trips.
When to go Click here to read more.
Things to do Hiking, birdwatching, sea kayaking, whale watching.
Places to stay Written permission is required to stay at the only accommodation in the park, Sirena Biological Station; ecolodges outside the park include Drake Bay Wilderness Resort and Lapa Ríos ecolodge.
Further information sinac.go.cr (Spanish only)
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
Monteverde's star species: Resplendent quetzal • Hummingbirds • Orchids
No less than 30 species of hummingbirds flit through the moss-drizzled cloud forest of Monteverde, but it’s the resplendent quetzal (best seen between January and July) that most dedicated birders want to see. Non-feathered highlights in the reserve include an astonishing 420-plus varieties of orchid and, if you are extremely lucky, you may also glimpse a Baird’s tapir or one of Monetverde’s five species of cats. The network of trails in the park is well maintained, but come prepared for fog or rain.
Getting there Buses travel daily between San José and Santa Elena (4 hrs), from where buses and taxis run to Monteverde.
Getting around Walks, tours, Trainforest Railroad.
When to go Click to read more
Things to do Hiking, birdwatching, guided walks, horse riding, canopy tours (including zip-lining and suspended walkways).
Places to stay Lodges in the area include Cloud Forest Lodge and El Establo.
Further information monteverdeinfo.com
Tortuguero National Park
Tortuguero's star species: Turtles • Three-toed sloth • Howler monkey • River otter • Spectacled caiman
Canals and coastal lagoons provide the main access to this exotic mix of flooded forest and Caribbean coast. Slipping quietly along water channels and nosing about in mangroves, a kayaking or boat trip offers the best chance for spotting wildlife such as howler and spider monkey, white-faced capuchin and three-toed sloth. Don’t forget to occasionally glance down from the trees – Tortuguero is a good place to see southern river otter, spectacled caiman and basilisk lizards, along with wading birds, such as herons and jacanas. It’s the beach, however, that’s the real wildlife crowd-puller. A major nesting site for hawksbill, leatherback, loggerhead and green turtles, the park’s beaches are one of the best places in the world to see the marine reptiles hauling themselves ashore to lay eggs.
Getting there 80km north of Limón; boat and air access only to Tortuguero Village, just north of the park.
Getting around Boat trips and walking tours.
When to go Green and hawksbill turtles nest from July to September; leatherbacks February to April. Hatchlings emerge from November.
Things to do Boat trips, sea kayaking, canoeing, beach walks (to observe nesting turtles), canopy tour, hiking.
Places to stay Various lodges and B&Bs in Tortuguero.
Further information tortuguerovillage.com
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WHEN TO GO
Expect some rain at any time of the year, although it’s generally drier from December to April. At sea level, temperatures average 30-35C, tempered by sea breezes, while the highlands and cloud forest can be a cool 10-15C. From May to November (Costa Rica’s ‘green’ season), expect clear mornings and heavy rain storms in the afternoons.
WHERE TO STAY
A variety of places to stay is available, including several ecolodges.